Life Aboard Ship, Dispatches From South of the "Roaring Forties"
Wednesday, July 14, 2004 The last one
Well, this is my last Bulletin. We are due to arrive in Capetown Saturday (the day after tomorrow if this is up on the web Thursday). It has been a very long eventful voyage, but I think it's fair to say that it has been long enough and we all want to go home or at least, get off the ship! I will be staying in South Africa for five days: two in Capetown, then driving to Grahamstown to visit the South African Institute of Aquatic Biology, two days there, and then home to the U.S.
Lots of water has passed under the keel of the PALMER since the research vessel left Punta Arenas, Chile, on May 17.
Thirteen days after returning home I leave for Nome, Alaska, to join a Russian ship for a short (17 day) cruise to the Chukchi Sea to study climate change. And no, I didn't plan it like this. The second cruise was originally supposed to be in September, but the schedule was changed. Since I am the Principal Investigator, I need to go on it. It's fair to say that I would prefer the original schedule. In fact, I would prefer not to go anywhere for a while, but I don't have that option.
As you might imagine, packing to get off the ship is complicated. In fact, in some ways it is more complicated and difficult than packing to go on board. Before the cruise, your enthusiasm makes it easier; plus everything is clean, new, you know where it is and how it all fits together. Afterwards, you have not only have the stuff you brought (or at least some of it) but also the samples you collected. And therein lie a variety of difficulties: preservational, legal, and logistic.
Preservational: For those of us who preserved samples, keeping them from rotting is easy. They are either in formaldehyde solution or in ethanol in sealed five-gallon buckets, and barring leaks, they will be fine. For those who have frozen samples (that includes all the geneticists, physiologists, and others aboard) it is not so simple. Suppose you had valuable frozen samples. How would you get them home (let's say, to Ohio) from South Africa without thawing? That requires some very special packing materials, dry ice, and other coolants. And, those must go by air, in many cases to be hand carried by the scientist to have coolant refreshed along the way. For items that will NOT be carried as excess baggage by a scientist, ways must be found to keep them adequately frozen during shipment. What will happen is this: most of the samples will be packed in boxes and then replaced in the freezers. When the ship reaches Lytleton, New Zealand, after it drops us off in Capetown, these samples will be removed and packed in larger containers with dry ice and blue ice, then shipped by air to California (or other countries), where they will be reshipped to their destinations. There is a complex, labor-intensive system in place to insure that they all stay frozen. At various points along the way, they will be opened, inspected, and if necessary, their freezing materials replenished before being sent on to the next waypoint. That is why they will go to NZ there is no such system in place for shipment form South Africa.
Legal: In the old days (just a few years ago at that), there were few problems, you just shipped the buckets home. Now, however, it is a different story. Owing to the much tighter controls on shipping hazardous and flammable materials, plus the concern over terrorism, there are many air and surface cargo, national and international regulations that MUST be followed exactly. For instance, the preserved specimens must be in UN-approved double containers. The plastic five-gallon buckets are placed inside steel drums and covered with vermiculite to absorb leakage; the top to each drum is then bolted on. As you can imagine this leads to significantly increased costs, both to buy the containers, but also to ship the larger, heavier drums. In addition, there are customs requirements, in our case, of at least two countries US and New Zealand, where the cargo will be trans-shipped). For each container, a detailed packing list is required. Owing to the regulations about traffic in endangered species, this list must specify, if possible, every species of which there is a specimen included. Fortunately, we have no endangered animals or plants, otherwise special permits would be required from both the country where they were collected and the country to which they are going.
Logistic: Imagine having cargo, both biological and equipment, that must be unloaded, separated into individual shipments, and then sent to eight countries in the absence of the folks who own it. Furthermore, some of it will be unloaded in South Africa, but most will go to New Zealand. And the ship’s marine technicians are responsible for insuring that all legal and logistic requirements are met. Part of the solution involves having cargo vans aboard that are loaded before the ship reaches shore, so that all that remains is to unload them for trans shipment. But of course, that only includes those items that are not perishable. The containers will go to New Zealand, the home port for the Palmer, to be offloaded and trans shipped by surface to Port Hueneme, California, the main staging area for the U.S. Antarctic Program. From there the contents will be sent to the individuals to whom they belong.
David Stein enjoys warm weather finally at Tristan da Cunha, after nearly two months traversing the Southern Atlantic.
All this takes time, of course. So, I expect to receive my shipped items (all preserved, so time is not an issue with them) around the end of September or in October. In the mean time of course, I will be home, eagerly awaiting the fish collected at such great effort, expense, and time.
Thanks for reading these bulletins; I hope they have been interesting and educational. I will try to provide my results to this web page within a couple of months after I get the samples (what fishes I actually collected, whether any of them are new species or new records, and so on), but I am not sure how long this page will remain up on the BoatUS site. In any case, bon voyage!